Officials are ignoring years of community input, say activists
But local advocates say that the plan is essentially a highway expansion, and ignores many of the community’s ideas for reviving the area shared in dozens of meetings with city planners and elected officials over the past decade. Key among residents’ wishes is seeing the Sheridan torn down—or at least narrowed—to make way for parks and housing along the Bronx River waterfront. But that, they say, is not what the governor has proposed, despite his promises.
“All the headlines say the government is tearing down the Sheridan Expressway. That is completely not what is being contemplated,” said Elena Conte, policy director at the Pratt Center for Community Development, a member group of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance. The Alliance is a coalition of organizations which since 2006 has urged the state to demolish or downsize the Sheridan.
The preliminary plan for Sheridan Boulevard, as the state is calling it, includes landscaped medians, two crosswalks, and green space on the expressway’s eastern flank along the riverfront. A new ramp would be built for trucks to exit the Bruckner expressway onto Edgewater Road and a lane added to the Bruckner. In addition, some lanes would be widened.
The Sheridan has long divided opinions in Hunts Point, especially between residents and the food distribution markets. Though residents and activists maintain that the 1.25-mile long highway is underutilized and doesn’t serve the community, hundreds of wholesalers in the markets contend it is a lifeline for their fleets of trucks, which deliver meat, fish and produce to restaurants and stores around the city and beyond.
Those who want the Sheridan removed were disappointed when a 2013 study concluded that demolishing it is unfeasible because trucks would be forced to use local streets instead, and would make existing traffic problems even worse. But the study also found that the highway could be narrowed significantly, without hurting the markets—-a concession advocates said was acceptable.
“I would be incredibly disappointed if the expressway stays the same width,” said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “That’s not a community win.”
“Residents didn’t just want the existing lanes with crosswalks,” said Vanterpool. “Why does the state want to discard the city’s plan? That plan reflected what the community wanted.”
Years of studies, including a $1.5 million federal planning grant to gather input from residents through a series of meetings, seem to have led nowhere, some advocates say.
“We’ve been doing this for two decades,” said Angela Tovar, director of community development at The Point CDC.
The markets have routinely threatened to move to New Jersey if the state knocks down the Sheridan. Richard Romanoff, owner of Nebraskaland, sends 70 trucks rumbling over the Sheridan every day to deliver meat to restaurants and shops. He has opposed previous proposals to tear it down or reduce lanes, and supports the governor’s plan.
“I think it’s perfect,” said Romanoff.
Though the addition of crosswalks and greenery would be welcome, say advocates, they have rejected a part of the plan that calls for a new exit that would connect the highway to Edgewater Road near Hunts Point Riverside Park, one of the industrialized peninsula’s few recreational oases. The busy nonprofit Rocking the Boat and The Point CDC’s Riverside Park campus are also located there. The advocates say they would prefer to see the exit come out onto comparatively desolate Oak Point Avenue.
Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, who represents Hunts Point, said there is still plenty of time to work with the state to shape the plan to meet the community’s needs. In fact, the governor’s initial blueprint has already undergone a key change, he added, pointing out that the decision to add east-west crosswalks across the Sheridan was not in the original plan, but advocates and elected officials pushed for it. Without more concessions like that, advocates caution, the project will amount to little more than a glorified highway expansion.